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Villager photo by Matt Townsend

At Community Board 3’s State Liquor Authority Committee meeting, developer Matthew Moss of the Cooper Square Hotel, standing at right, and his attorney, Donald Bernstein, also standing, were asked to accept some strict terms of operation in return for the board’s approval of the new hotel’s liquor license application.

C.B. 3 raises the bar for hotel liquor license bid

By Matt Townsend 

Matthew Moss looked exhausted on Tuesday night Dec. 12 as he left an assisted living residence on E. Fifth St. It looked like he was in need of some assistance himself.

The developer had just spent two hours on his feet in front of an unsupportive crowd trying to state his case as to why his development project, the Cooper Square Hotel, should receive a liquor license. 

“I’m fried,” Moss said, looking at his associates huddled around him after Community Board 3’s State Liquor Authority committee meeting had ended. “I shouldn’t comment further at this point,” he commented to a reporter.

In January, Moss began his quest for a liquor license for the upscale, 21-story hotel, located across Fifth St. from the Jewish Association for Services for the Aged, or JASA, residence, where the community board committee meeting was held. But nearly a year later, Moss doesn’t have a liquor license and appears to be even further away than before. The committee voted to approve the liquor license only if Moss would agree to several conditions, including closing three outdoor areas earlier in the evening than he wanted.

“I don’t think it’s a reasonable outcome right now,” Moss said before declining comment again and leaving the building. 

Community board approval is only an advisory recommendation to the S.L.A., meaning the S.L.A. could still approve a license. If the hotel group doesn’t sign the agreement, it was expected that C.B. 3 would vote down the license at its full board meeting on Tues., Dec. 18. The S.L.A. will hold a 500-foot hearing for the hotel’s application on Jan. 8 because the hotel lies within 500 feet of at least three other bars. At the hearing, the developers will have to show that a bar at the hotel is in the public interest — but not having community board support doesn’t bode well.

“Community impact is important,” said S.L.A. spokesman Bill Crowley. “We are going to take [community board] recommendations seriously.” 

This summer, the committee ordered Moss and his development team to negotiate an agreement with the E. Fifth St. Block Association, which has signed such agreements in the past with other bars in the area. This agreement would stipulate such aspects as operating hours for the hotel’s outdoor areas on the first and second floors. But the two parties never reached a signed agreement. 

“You came here [in the summer] and we said if you couldn’t negotiate something, we would negotiate for you,” Alexandra Militano, the committee’s chairperson, told Moss and his lawyer, Donald Bernstein, during the meeting. 

Having to negotiate with the board proved unfortunate for Moss, since the board’s conditions are tough: requiring earlier closing times and tighter restrictions on what kind of events could be held in the outside spaces than what the block association offered.

“I’m not sure why you’re going further than what the block association wanted,” Bernstein asked during the meeting. 

According to the board’s conditions: A first-floor garden must be closed at 9 p.m. every night; adjacent restaurant seating must be closed by 10 p.m. on the weekends; and a second-floor terrace must be off-limits by 8 p.m. every night. As in the block association’s request, the board conditions stipulate that music will never be played in the outdoor spaces in question.

“I don’t know if it’s called a victory,” said Jerry Orter, a member of the E. Fifth St. Block Association, which held a protest of about 40 people outside the building before the meeting. “But I went over to Moss after the meeting and said we’re ready to work a deal.” 

C.B. 3 District Manager Susan Stetzer said the S.L.A. used to frequently give licenses without including a community board recommendation, but that’s changed over the past two years.

“If it’s something that’s subject to the 500-foot rule and we offer a denial, then the law is that they have to prove it’s a benefit to the community,” Stetzer said. “That’s a hard standard to prove.” 

As of last week, Bernstein said he didn’t know what course his client would take and that they were willing to talk to negotiate with the community again. 

“A lot of people have legitimate concerns, and we’re trying to address that,” Bernstein said. “Some other people wouldn’t be happy until it’s torn down.” 

In addition to the outdoor bar spaces, the hotel also has applied for indoor bar spaces as part of its one overall liquor license application. Stetzer said it’s anyone’s guess what the S.L.A. might do if Moss refuses to sign the C.B. 3 committee’s agreement for the outdoor spaces.

“They could theoretically approve the whole thing, deny the whole thing, approve the indoors and not extend it to the exterior,” Stetzer said, “or if Matt signs the thing, then it would be according to the stipulation.”

Volume 77 / Number 29 - December 19 - 25, 2007

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